|Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado|
Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19
1 Peter 2:4-9
I’ve always loved bridges. They fascinate me because of their function but also, often, because of their beauty. The highest bridge in the U.S. over Royal Gorge in Colorado, the longest rope bridge east of the Mississippi, and double-decker bridge leading into Cincinnati, and the numerous bridges sprinkled all across South Louisiana each in their own way give me pause to contemplate something incredible as travel over them – the ability to unite things that seem utterly separate.
That concept, though I never put it in such words, is what drew me to consider the vocation of the priesthood. In fact, in the early Church, the priest was often referred to by the Latin term ‘pontifex,’ which means ‘bridge-builder,’ because every priest is supposed to build bridges to unite humanity with the Divine. It’s the whole nature of the priesthood really and they do it by offering sacrifices. The role of the priest in the ancient Israelite community was to offer sacrifices and prayers to God on behalf of the people to keep them safe in His care. The ordained priest today does a similar action by offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and prescribed prayers each day to permit people to draw into communion with the Lord. The priest is a bridge-builder and the sacrifices that the priest offers are the means to building those bridges and strengthening them.
But the thing is this: it’s not just me and other ordained priests who are called to be bridge-builders. All of us are called to be bridge-builders and the Lord is inviting us to stop today to contemplate how good of a job we are doing.
Now here is where we get a bit theological, but stick with me! In First Peter we just heard of a people that is “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own.” We are that people! This phrasing was originally intended for the Jewish people but with the coming of Jesus is universalized and applied to every person who receives the gift of Baptism. Our baptismal ritual reminds us that every person baptized in Christ Jesus is anointed priest, prophet, and king. Christ Jesus is the One High Priest but because we are members of the Body of Christ by baptism, we participate also in His priesthood. Ordained priests do so in a different way, but we all participate in the priesthood of Jesus. But what does that priesthood look like?
We hear the answer in the Preface before the Eucharistic Prayer today: Jesus Christ comes among us as the priest, the altar, and the lamb of sacrifice. This is significant because before Jesus, the priest and the sacrificial offering were distinct from one another - the priest offered a lamb, bull, wheat, etc. - but Jesus changes everything and makes the priest himself the offering, he is the one sacrificed. And the same with us. St. Paul put it this way in the Letter to the Romans: “I urge you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” (12:1) To put it simply, the sacrifice that all of the baptized members of the Church are called to offer God in a priestly manner is their whole self: we give ourselves to God in offering, we give Him everything that we have, everything that we are, everything that we desire, everything that we fear, our whole life with nothing held back. That is what God desires of us. Our whole life is supposed to be a priestly act, an act of sacrifice that works to build up bridges between those around us and the God that loves us all.
We're hopefully all working as bridge-builders to some degree now, but for every one of us, myself included, there is still room to grow and become even better at drawing people to God. And there are three concrete things we can do to make that happen.
First – to use the words of Pope St. Pius X, “Don’t pray AT Holy Mass. Pray THE Holy Mass.” The best way that we can be better instruments of bringing people to Jesus is to get closer to Jesus our self and the place where that happens is here at Mass. If we enter into this celebration more deeply, things change. If we listen to the prayers and pray them for ourselves, if we spend time with the readings and question where God is speaking to us, if we offer our needs and the needs of others at the appropriate times in the Mass, we will be changed and that will change others. If we want to build bridges to bring people to God, there's not better way than to celebrate the most miraculous bridge in Eucharistic Holy Communion.
Second – sacrifice for others. There are a variety of ways to do this. We can offer a sacrifice of prayers for people and spend time praying for them. We can fast or abstain from food, drink, entertainment, or some luxury for conversion of others. We can offer up a sacrifice of our desire and do something with or for them so that they can see love in action. God alone changes hearts, but He often waits for us to ask Him to do so. So let us ask and offer some gift to help the bridge come together.
Third – be willing to be used. Sometimes one of the best ways to be a bridge between God and humanity is to simply invite people to get closer to God. This can be an invite to join you at Mass, return to confession, gathering for prayer as friends, or scripture sharing with a group. It can be by talking about your faith to encourage them in theirs. It can be a whole host of things. But often we can shrink back in fear of what others might think, say, feel, or do if we bring God into the picture. Be not afraid of what might happen but remember that God often speaks to us through others and that sometimes He wants to speak through us as well.
I always loved bridges. But as much as I love marveling at them, it is much more beautiful to be one ourselves. Countless others of our family and friends and helped us draw near to God by building bridges to connect us to Him. May God grant us today the grace to continue building bridges for others so we can truly be a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people all his own.